Italian VAR wants out of Syrian surveillance deal

The Italian company criticized for supplying the brutal Syrian regime with telecommunications surveillance equipment has frozen participation in the project and is seeking a way to extricate itself from the contract, Area SpA CEO Andrea Formenti said Wednesday.

"At the moment we have no people down there and the project has made no progress in the last two months," Formenti told the Milan daily Corriere della Sera. "The interception system has never been activated and cannot be under current circumstances. There has been no repression carried out thanks to our equipment."

The existence of Area's US$18 million contract with the state-owned Syrian Telecommunications Establishment was revealed by the Bloomberg news agency a week ago. Under Project Asfador, named after a man who cold-called the company and encouraged it to bid on the deal in 2008, Syrian security agents would be able to monitor the communications and Web use of opponents to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which has killed more than 3,000 people since popular protests broke out in March.

Area had put together the electronic surveillance system using hardware and software for archiving emails provided by California-based NetApp, communications probes provided by Paris-based Qosmos and equipment supplied by Germany's Utimaco Safeware that connects tapped telecom lines to Area's monitoring-center computers, Bloomberg said.

The system was being set up in Damascus by Area staff sent from Italy and was currently in a test phase, Bloomberg said.

Area was established in 1996 and provides communications monitoring services to the Italian government. Together with three other companies, Innova, RCS and Sio, it is reportedly owed some €160 million (US$217 million) by the Italian justice ministry for telephone taps carried out on the orders of magistrates.

Formenti said Area's lawyers were studying the complex legal situation with a view to revoking the contract. Area risked severe financial penalties and there was currently no international embargo on the technology it had agreed to supply, he told the Corriere della Sera.

When the contract was negotiated, Syria was a friendly country and Italy was its largest trading partner, Formenti said.

On Tuesday Syrian dissidents and supporters of the Italian Pirate Party protested outside Area's headquarters near Milan's Malpensa Airport. Marco Marsili, a spokesman for the Pirates, said it was unacceptable that the Italian government allowed the sale of Area's equipment "to one of the most bloodthirsty regimes on the planet," and called on the European parliament to embargo such exports.

"Any company dealing with exports should consider the human rights implications of what they sell," said James Lynch, Amnesty International's spokesman for the Middle East and North Africa. Amnesty is worried about the large number of people being arrested by Syrian security forces, held incommunicado and tortured, Lynch said.

"The Syrian authorities are very aware of the use of social media by protesters," Lynch said. "We are aware of at least one case where someone arrested was asked to open his Facebook page to give police access to his contacts."

Formenti indicated he too would welcome tougher international sanctions on Syria. He said he had spoken to the protesters and assured them that no dissident would be persecuted as a result of Area's work.

"I hope international measures will be taken soon to prevent other people from finding themselves in a situation such as ours," he told the Corriere della Sera.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Government use of ITArea SpA

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Philip Willan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?